Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Dan Would Have Rathered Taken The High Road But Found It Was Full Of Potholes

CBS Is A Network Not Always Big On Big Goodbyes
Dan Rather said all the right things today as his departure from CBS after 44 years became official.
So did CBS, but the end result was different.
Usually, this is a time for every bromide to be taken out of cold storage for a valedictory statement. Rather -- whom I did some writing for during my time at CBS News Radio -- was having none of that.
Still, the public candor and residual bitterness in his statement was remarkable given how rare it is.

My departure before the term of my contract represents CBS's final acknowledgement, after a protracted struggle, that they had not lived up to their obligation to allow me to do substantive work there. As for their offers of a future with only an office but no assignments, it just isn't in me to sit around doing nothing.

CBS demurred by responding in kind -- their contract offer or lack thereof had already spoken volumes.
Instead, it issued a pat: "We value and respect Dan's tremendous career at CBS News. Despite the fact that we couldn't reach an agreement that satisfied everyone, we wish him all future success."
CBSNews.com, though, to its credit, did mention Rather's criticism and linked to the entire statement.

The network says it's working on a primetime special honoring Rather's career to be aired in the fall (should we hold our breath?). We'll see if it's all hosannas all the time, or will they mix in some of the lower moments ("Ready, Set, Gorbachev", "Courage", walking off when the U.S. Open tennis ran long, the Afghan fashion statement and that little Bush/National Guard thing).
A lot may depend on how much he pisses off his now-former bosses in his interviews over the next few days.

What I'll miss about him is that despite all the idiosyncrasies and Ratherisms -- "this race is hotter than a Laredo parking lot" anyone? -- is that CBS had in its anchor chair for 24 years a dogged reporter whose bullshit detector was almost always on high.

Unlike Brian Williams, to name one, Rather didn't have to be seasoned in the field to establish his credentials. Vietnam and the Nixon White House had long since taken care of that. He liked presiding in the big tent that a network anchor is afforded, but still yearned to be pounding the pavement in search of a good story to tell. And when he latched onto one, there were few better in his prime.
Dan often surprised us grunts in radio with how generous he was with his time to provide analysis on a story, or give us a preview of an interview he'd just scored with some head of state or newsmaker du jour.
Many TV correspondents thought radio was not worth their bother -- even though more people heard the hourly newscasts than watched the evening news -- but not Dan, who remembered from whence he came. He was always introduced as CBS News Correspondent Dan Rather, rather than CBS Evening News Anchorman Dan Rather.
Of course, he was more than just a reporter. Getting paid $10 million a year does that to a guy. But he was all about the news -- lots of steak -- Texas-sized, to be sure -- easy on the sizzle.
So, it's not surprising that he's declined to go quietly. Rather, cowboy boots and all, was having none of that, and is happy to hitch his ride at some other outpost.
Good for him.

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